Opinion: Tough on immigration

POSTED: 10/13/15 3:16 PM

The Immigration and Border Protection Service (IBP) has announced tough action against immigration violations. There is no argument about the idea that a country ought to protect its borders, but there is always a gray area somewhere that is going to cause trouble sooner or later.

We read now, in a press statement from the IBP that it is “punishable by law” for parents and guardians to enroll children into school who do not have a residence permit.

That remark gave us some reason for deep thought, and this is why.

St. Maarten has a system of compulsory education. This means that children have to be in school. And with children, this piece of legislation means all children, irrelevant of their status.

So under the law on compulsory education, parents are obliged to put their children in school. The school system is obliged to accept these children – all children. Again, irrelevant of their status.

The immigration department now claims that it is unlawful for parents and guardians to enroll children into school that have no residence permit. How is this possible?

If all children are entitled to education – legal or illegal – how then can there then be a law that threatens people who put their child where it belongs – in school?

This makes no sense at all and we perceive this also as rather insensitive.

The reaction of parents who have children on the island without valid papers is predictable. They will go underground. They will not enroll their children in school, thereby creating a new lost generation that will have to manage life without the basic skills every child gets acquainted with in the classroom.

How will this approach benefit the community? It is really easy to say that undocumented children are a burden to the education system. But it is equally clear that relieving the education system of this perceived burden, will cause pain and problems elsewhere.

By putting such a focus on children, who have no say in the situation they find themselves in, the immigration department is embarking on a witch hunt that will cause damages on many levels.

We understand the need to protect our borders, but we also know that it is virtually impossible to keep people out who really want to come in. See Hungary, Austria, Greece. Have a look at the dramatic events near the Channel Tunnel.

Someone recently posted pictures of a ship crammed with people. They wanted what? They wanted to get out of Europe, fleeing for Nazi-bastards and they went en masse to Africa. Those pictures do not differ from the ones we see these days of African refugees fleeing in the opposite direction.

The United States is a country of immigrants. Europe is becoming more and more a mixture of cultures. And while such a mix may pose its share of challenges, it also defines a country’s standing in humanity.

In St. Maarten we should not go after school children just because they do not happen to have papers. Let us focus on the real problems – we have enough of them.

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